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Fieldgate Mansions squatter Hoffman returns 40 years later as photographer showing life in 1970s Whitechapel

PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 July 2018 | UPDATED: 07:54 09 July 2018

1974... police clash with militant squatters occupying Fieldgate Mansions. Picture: David Hoffman

1974... police clash with militant squatters occupying Fieldgate Mansions. Picture: David Hoffman

David Hoffman

Images of the battle for Whitechapel’s Fieldgate Mansions go on public show for the first time later this month in the very neighbourhood where squatters clashed with police in the 1970s.

The squatters who occupied Whitechapel's empty Fieldgate Mansions. Picture: David HoffmanThe squatters who occupied Whitechapel's empty Fieldgate Mansions. Picture: David Hoffman

Documentary photographer David Hoffman returns to his old East End haunt where he himself was a squatter 40 years ago, with his unique exhibition of life in the run-down tenements which is being staged at Gallery 46—just five minutes away.

His raw, real life scenes show images of the Victorian dwellings around Myrdle Street that had been left empty and ready for the bulldozers.

But squatters moved in and prevented the demolition. The first to occupy the flats were artists, mechanics, writers, architects, dealers and photographers—including Hoffman himself.

Squatters help homeless Bengali families move into empty flats at Fieldgate Mansions. Picture: David HoffmanSquatters help homeless Bengali families move into empty flats at Fieldgate Mansions. Picture: David Hoffman

“It was a need for a place to live that brought me here,” he tells Spitalfields Life.

“I rented a squalid slum in Chicksand Street, then a room in Black Lion Yard above Solly Granatt’s jewellery shop.

“But the whole street was due for demolition and when he died we squatted until they knocked it down two years later.

Children turn dumped car into an adventure playground. Picture: David HoffmanChildren turn dumped car into an adventure playground. Picture: David Hoffman

“Then I found a place in Fieldgate Mansions in 1973. Bengali families were having a hard time and we were opening up the flats for them.

“We were taking over vacant buildings where the owners found it cheaper to keep them empty.”

The bailiffs and police came one night at 4am and turfed them squatters, boarded up the properties and put guard dogs in.

Fiddler on the roof? Defiant Whitechapel squatter in Myrdle Street. Picture: David HoffmanFiddler on the roof? Defiant Whitechapel squatter in Myrdle Street. Picture: David Hoffman

But the determined squatters got their own dog-handlers to remove the animals and took them to Leman Street police station as strays—then moved back in again.

However, they found mains cut, wiring ripped out and concrete poured down the toilets.

Fieldgate Mansions were later taken over by a community housing trust and modernised in the 1980s.

Hoffman had stayed for 10 years before buying a derelict house in Bow with money he had saved and where he lives today.

His unique photo-record goes on show at Whitechapel’s ‘Gallery 46’ in Ashfield Street from July 18 to August 15.

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